, Volume 44, Issue 2, pp 120-139
Date: 02 Nov 2012

“A Prostitution Alike of Matter and Spirit”: Anti-War Discourses in Children’s Literature and Childhood Culture Before and During World War I

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Histories of the First World War have regularly implicated children’s literature in boys’ eagerness to enlist in the first two years of that conflict. While undoubtedly the majority of children’s books, comics and magazines did espouse nationalistic, jingoistic and martial attitudes, there were alternative stories and environments. Looking at the publications, organisations and educational establishments that opposed the war and resisted the Germanophobia that began to dominate public discourse at the start of the twentieth century casts new light on some of the challenges and dilemmas facing a proportion of boys as they decided whether or not to join up. Additionally, the fact that there were alternative discourses is a reminder that not all readers would have responded in the same way to the same texts. Three areas are considered: children’s stories and pamphlets produced by Quakers and peace societies; left-wing publications, especially those associated with Socialist Sunday Schools; and two of the first progressive schools in Britain.

Kimberley Reynolds is Professor of Children’s Literature in the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics at Newcastle University in the UK. She has lectured and published widely on a variety of aspects of children’s literature, most recently in the form of an audio book, Children’s Literature between the Covers (Modern Scholar, 2011) and the volume on Children’s Literature in the Oxford University series of Very Short Introductions (2011).
This article arises from research done in connection with two Leverhulme-funded projects: the Leverhulme International Network, “Approaching War: Childhood, Culture and the First World War” and a Major Leverhulme Fellowship to research “Modernism, the Left and progressive writing for children, 1910–1949”.